This book has been written for our fellow safety and health professionals to aid in ethical decision-making. We have found that many of our friends and colleagues in the safety and health profession have been discouraged, dismayed, disheartened, distressed, distraught, disappointed, depressed, disillusioned, and/or dejected concerning the ethical dilemmas they have encountered in the workplace! Often, speaking from personal experiences, safety and health professionals feel alone and confused when navigating through these ethical dilemmas and challenges, especially when the ethical road appears difficult and winding and the end destination unclear or unknown.
There has been relatively little written about the ethical dilemmas and challenges that safety and health professionals face. There has even been less written about the philosophical approaches and frameworks for safety and health professionals to use to resolve the dilemmas and challenges once they are identified and confronted.
However, this is not a philosophy book. This is a guidebook. But major philosophical principles have been appropriated in this book for use by those generally unfamiliar with philosophy and its terminology. The philosophy information was largely gleaned from that available on the internet confirmed through multiple sources. Where specific safety and health-oriented information and data are cited, references have been incorporated in this book.
In order to make this book more relevant and readable to safety and health professionals, we have taken some liberties in explaining, simplifying, and applying philosophical principles for use in ethical decision-making. One of the major excursions from traditional philosophical understandings is that we have incorporated safety and health professionals’ duties to obey regulations, standards, and professional codes of conduct under the deontological (rule-based, duty-based) approach to ethical-decision making, which is an expansive inclusion from what is normally covered under deontological-based approaches. There are many other instances in which we have been creative in our philosophical appropriations – but always to aid in the goal of providing useful guidance for applied ethical decision-making for safety and health professionals.
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”
Albert Camus, author, journalist and philosopher
Is ethics currently an “in thing”? Evidence suggests that it is! There are numerous seminars, speeches, conferences, articles and training events on ethics, perhaps due to the large number of high-profile breaches of business ethics stories featured in the news. Ethics officers and ethics ombudsmen have been appointed by many organizations – a testimony to the popularity of and need for ethics in business settings. There have been many serious and repeated attempts to write business ethics into the law, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which was the U.S. Congress’s major response to the ethical business scandals of that time.
Professional ethics is important for safety and health practitioners to have since safety and health professionals as decision-makers are not exempt to the need for making ethical decisions. They are part of the business community affecting the lives of the people with whom they interact. Safety and health professionals, as business people, are subject to the external environment and face situations where values and priorities may conflict. Maybe more importantly, the safety and health profession, being similar to the medical profession in its end goals (protecting health), has certain ethical expectations of behavior. These ethical expectations of behavior are often contained in “codes of ethical conduct” – which is one of the marks of being considered a profession. The vulnerability of the reputation of the safety and health profession is intensified by ethical missteps given the health-oriented and protective business that safety and health professionals are in.
This book is meant to serve as a safety and health professional’s guidebook for ethical decision-making especially when confronted with ethical dilemmas (both common and unique) found in the workplace. Philosophies, approaches and frameworks for ethical decision-making are provided along with case studies that have applied these philosophies, approaches and frameworks. This book is largely oriented toward the ethics of the individual safety and health professional, although some organizational-level safety and health ethics is discussed.
Before the ethical decision-making approaches and frameworks are presented in later chapters, let’s answer some basic questions regarding ethics. Thus, Chapter 1 acts as a general primer to this whole area of ethics – especially ethics related to the safety and health profession.